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Salmon Arm Roots & Blues

Getting to the Root of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival with Artistic Director Hugo Rampen

By Shelley Gummeson

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Deep in the heart of the Shuswap where the Salmon River spills its contents into the Salmon Arm of Shuswap Lake, lies the town of Salmon Arm, BC.

On the third weekend of each August the population swells by thousands.  The town is transformed into a cultural hub of music by hosting one of the premier festivals in BC, the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival.

I love to share music

This year the festival falls August 16, 17, 18.  The festival grounds sport five stages, each with a different focus, and two night stages.  There’s a family stage as well. Refreshment stations, whether it be the 2 covered bars or the misting wands, dot the grounds.  There are of course food vendors, artisan markets, and a Roots and Blues memorabilia and CD tent and more.  There are also enough good times to make fond memories each year.

Hugo Rampen
Hugo Rampen - AD for the
Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Fest

Steering this festival for the past five years is Hugo Rampen, Artistic Director of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival.  Hugo Rampen knows a thing or two about farming.  He also knows a thing or two about festivals. Hugo has also learned a thing or two about himself. 

When asked how a person becomes the Artistic Director of a major music festival and why would you want a job like that, he laughs and replies, “Before I was an artistic director, and an administrator, I was a music agent.  Before I was a music agent I was a music presenter.  I’ve been involved in live music since 1994 I believe.

Rampen has recently taken on a new venture as one of the founding board members, of the community radio station, Voice of the Shuswap

“What has come to me since I’ve been involved in that is ‘I love to share music’.  I just like to show people what we’ve found, what’s available, and what’s different from different parts of the world, the stories it can tell or what culture it’s from.”  Hugo continues, “ I think that’s why I got involved in becoming an agent and a presenter in the first place.  When I had my agency I had a line-up that was representative of that.   You could book my entire line-up and have a diverse music festival.  What community radio has done is, it’s allowed me to fall back in love with music again That’s the way I constructed my agency.  So it was a natural fit for me.  Having been a presenter I understood some aspects of live presentation.

In addition to being Artistic Director, of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival he’s now sharing music as host of a show called “Festival Radio”  “It’s once a week,” says Hugo.  “I highlight festivals from around the world and recently I’ve been looking at the festival fare that is being offered in Western Canada, in advance of the festival, previews to try and drive people to various festivals in Western Canada.”   He has also showcased festivals from Denmark, Germany and is now working on one from Croatia.  Which does he like more, behind the scenes or behind the mic?  “I don’t talk that much,” he laughs.  “ Salmon Arm
Dancing isn`t mandatory but everyone does it anyway.
I just like to play the music and tell what the music is about.” 

As a host, Hugo discovered something about himself and community radio.
He explains, “What I did find though, when you’re Artistic Director and you listen to a piece of music, a decision has to be made regarding that piece of music.  Are you going to book that band or are you going to say no to that band.  I only have forty spots and I had probably five to eight thousand submissions this year.”  He does acknowledge the changes in technology.  “Submitting is a lot easier now than when I was an agent.  You don’t send in a CD you just email an audio track.  You don’t have that natural elimination of the expense of creating a CD. If you have a computer you can record and submit a track. You become overwhelmed.”  Getting back to the decision-making, he goes on, “When you get a track, you have to make a decision yes or no.  Well yes is the easiest thing to say in the world, but you can only say it forty times in this position.  No is a very difficult thing to say, especially when it comes to somebody’s personal art.  I have a lot of trouble with that because I’m not here to say what you do is good or bad or maybe doesn’t fit what we are programming this year.  That’s not me.  I like to be encouraging.   But on the radio, I get to share what I want to share.  There’s no negative decision based on what I’m playing. It’s just a positive happy experience.  What the community radio station has done is it’s allowed me to fall back in love with music again because I’m able to play it and every time it’s a positive outcome. Whereas when you’re Artistic Director you’re making decision and ninety-five percent of the time it’s a negative outcome.”

We make it a priority to treat our artists very well here.

Despite having to make those weighty decisions regarding the line-up, Hugo remains committed to ensuring the festival experience is a positive one for both the musician and the patron.  “We make it a priority to treat our artists very well here.  We are told that we are one of the best festivals in the country at managing artists and their time. We do that because we respect the artist and their time.  I’ve been on the road many Salmon Arm
times as a tour manager myself.  I understand how difficult it is being away from home, not having proper laundry or nutrition and the fatigue from travelling.  We try to respect that with our scheduling and management of the artist.”  Hugo, who has road managed for the Canada Council, says they are not Winnipeg, Vancouver or Toronto; they are little Salmon Arm and have actually raised the bar on artist management.

No man is an island unto himself.  Rampen says he has an exceptional team behind him.  To maintain the high standards, camaraderie and fulfillment of the various portfolios like box office or publicity, Hugo encourages everyone to talk to one another.  They share information; taking advantage of the years of experience these team members have accumulated.  The office atmosphere is about open thinking.  It’s about respect.

With his programming of the anticipated and unique workshops done, the weeks leading up to the festival include a different role - that of a cheerleader of sorts. He goes around ensuring his team has the resources they require to fulfill their portfolios or listen to ideas of how to improve the festival experience for the patron or to solve a problem. He’s not one to stay in an office though.  Hugo Rampen who was once a farmer, gets in to the dirt and works.  “I’m watering the grounds a lot,” he laughs.  “My colleague Jay and I have been up at six in the morning to eleven at night watering the grounds two days a week.”  You may find Rampen at the top of scaffolding putting up a tent or during the festival with a straw hat jammed onto his head, zipping around in a golf cart, observing the people, are they having a good time or going from stage to stage.

When it comes right down to it, you could say the root of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival is people and how you treat them whether that be the musician, the patron, staff, volunteers, community sponsors or interns from abroad.  Hugo says it’s human resources and sharing music.

For more information on the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, the program and for tickets .  They need and would love to have more volunteers on board.  You can apply through the website.

See you at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival

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